Park Funding Still Questionable
Inside the Outdoors, July 31, 2009

“Nobody knows…” Those are the famous two words being spoken throughout the state of Pennsylvania concerning the upcoming budget cuts that Governor Ed Rendell will make concerning the state parks and the forest roads of the Commonwealth.

The allocation of what will be available of monies is leaving bureau heads and employees sitting on the edge of their seats wondering if they will have jobs in the future.

It all stems from a Senate Bill 850 that was introduced to The General Assembly back on May 1 of this year. The proposal was to cut $26,000 million from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, closing 35 state parks and miles of state forest roads.

When word was announced via the media, it spread like wildfire. The question arose, “Would that affect any of the local parks in our area?” The answer was yes, and that stunned many outdoor enthusiasts. These included Laurel Mountain Park, Lynn Run State Park and Yellow Creek in Indiana County.

But I’m happy to announce that not all is gloom and doom, as the saying goes. Senate Bill 850 was defeated thanks to recreationists, hikers, bikers, hunters, and sportsmen who complained and were very upset about this proposal. But that’s not to say that all is back as it used to be before the introduction of the Senate budget proposal, Rendell still has to decide how he is going to plan his budget, and that is leaving a lot of people worried.

When I mentioned the proposal to a number of fishing buddies, they all had the same comment. “You know, Paul,” that bill is ridiculous!” I couldn’t agree more, particularly when it comes to Yellow Creek, a wonderful and popular recreational facility that is frequented throughout the year by fishermen, campers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

I contacted John Clifford, representative of the DCNR programs department in Harrisburg to ascertain his feelings concerning the defeat of Senate Bill 850 and how he felt the future may pan out. He told me the following:

“Everything depends on the final budget. We really don’t know anything at this time. We are asked to make budget decisions, but we really can’t do so without knowing what the budget really is.”

Since I was very familiar with Yellow Creek having boated and fished there many times, I asked him, “If the budget cuts were directed toward that park, what would be the outcome?”

Clifford explained, “There would be no office, the restrooms would be closed, and there would be no maintenance department.” “Could people still be allowed to fish and boat on the lake?” I said. “It all depends on the manager of the park,” he stated. “If he feels free to leave the gate open and there is access to put a boat in the water without depending on docks, then I suppose it would be permissible. But there again, that depends on the park manager. As for fishing,” he continued, “I see no reason why people can’t fish the lake even if the gate is closed.”

Right now, for example, people of that area have contacted me to report that northern pike fishing is at its best on that lake and that anglers are harvesting a good many of them. In addition, residents and tourists are enjoying picnicking, camping, swimming, renting boats and cabins and hiking the many trails that are available to them.

Ed Callahan, manager of Forbes State Forest, Laughlintown, expressed his concern in reference to upcoming budget of Rendell. “Nobody knows when the governor’s budget will be announced and how it will affect our operations,” he told me. “I know he is planning for tax increases.”

“Everything depends on the budget,” Callahan expressed. “I can tell you right now, if we receive budget cuts, 19-33 positions will be lost.”

So, as the old saying goes, “We never know what the future will bring.” No words are truer than right now. For, if Rendell decides that what is best for the Commonwealth is to create a budget that would affect our state parks and forest lands and the employees governing over them, his so-called gain would result in a loss for many of us who look to the great outdoors as a resort of wealth and happiness.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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